Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Mayans, the Fiscal Cliff, Your Bar Tab and YOU

Hold on to these -- you might need them!
You've probably heard that the country is heading toward a fiscal cliff.  Of course, some people see it as less of a cliff and more of a downhill incline or even a bump in the road.  Personally, I see it as the fiscal "perfect storm."  If Congress doesn't act (always a good bet) by December 31st, several things that might independently cause problems for the economy would all happen at once, including:
  • Tax cuts initially championed by President Bush, such as a reduced rate for capital gains, a top tax rate of 35% as opposed to 39.6% and myriad other tidbits generally geared toward higher income individuals would expire. Whether you think they should expire or not, their immediate elimination would certainly cause a bit of an economic kerfluffle.
  • Physicians would see an almost 30% reduction in the amount they are reimbursed for Medicare patients.  OK, yeah, many physicians make a fair amount of money.  But imagine if your income were suddenly reduced by over 25% all because you served a certain population of people.  Would you keep serving those people?  Maybe not.  Would you increase rates for other people?  Quite possibly.
  • Deep and immediate cuts in domestic and defense programs of between 8.5 and 10% (maybe more) would take place.  "Good riddance" some might say -- until it's a program that impacts you, like that national park you were going to visit, or that government sponsored meal service you were hoping for, or that small business loan you were expecting.  And don't get me started on unemployment benefits.
  • Payroll taxes on employees, which were cut as part of economic recovery efforts, would increase from 4.2% to 6.2%.  For a person making $40,000 per year, that's about $30 per paycheck, probably not life-changing, but definitely irritating.  Imagine the impact on bar tabs.  
Incidentally, this bar tab thing is important to me so I did the math.  According to the Wine Institute, on a per capita basis Americans drink about 2.54 gallons or 22 glasses of wine (those are "light" pours) per year.  Now I don't know the average amount for a glass of wine, so I'm going to guess $6, although that's probably high because there's a lot of two buck chuck out there.  If everyone spends 2% less on wine, the over $830 million in revenue!  This could be a wine tragedy of gargantuan proportions.

If you want to know how it might impact you, check out the Washington Post's "fiscal cliff calculator." Just don't freak out at the numbers.  I'm also a fan of their FAQs. 

There are two pieces of good news in all this.  First, it's probably more likely than not that Congress will take some action to forestall the potential devastation.  Although there are some who suggest that going over the fiscal cliff might either a) not be so terrible or b) actually benefit the economy, most feel that they don't want to take the risk of ruining everyone's holiday season by bringing on economic Armageddon.

Second, and perhaps more important, according to the Mayan calendar the world will end on December 21st.  So it's all a moot point anyway.  And just in case the Mayans were wrong, the economic boost from all the end of the world parties might just keep the economy afloat until we can figure this thing out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Which Pink Unicorns to Watch During Debates on the Fiscal Cliff

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, made the shocking revelation today on NPR's Morning Edition that pink unicorns do not exist and neither does a potential sequestration deal that would significantly raise taxes.  As the author of the "no new taxes" pledge that, in the 112th Congress, all but 6 Republican members of the House and 7 members of the Senate signed, his views carry some weight.  Although many in D.C. believe that tax increases on at least some portion of the population must be included in any fiscal cliff deal, there's been no wave of defections, as of yet, from Norquist's pledge.

This matters because it means that the partisan impasse that has plagued Congress over the last few years will continue for the next few weeks.  Remember, the members of the 112th Congress are still the ones calling the shots, not the newly elected 113th.

Let's look at the raw numbers for efforts to pass a deal:
  • 218 votes are need for any deal to pass the Hous
  • The Republicans hold 242 seats for the remainder of 112th (far more than needed)
  • Of those 242, 236 have signed the "no new taxes" pledge (again, more than needed to support passage of a deal)
  • 51 votes are needed for a deal to pass the Senate floor (or in the case of a filibuster, 60)
  • The Democrats hold 53 of those seats (including the Independents) for the remainder of the 112th
  • Of the 47 Republicans in the Senate, 40 have signed the pledge (i.e., 1 vote shy of the votes needed to break a filibuster)
It may seem like too much math, but these numbers, along with the tax pledge and the President's strong message that any deal must include tax increases on the wealthiest of Americans, lay out some interesting scenarios.  They seem to suggest that everything could boil down to the decisions of a few key Republicans in the House and Senate -- those who did not sign the tax pledge.

So who are these about to be inundated legislators?  According to the Americans for Tax Reform site, they are:

NY-24 Richard Hanna
GA-07 Rob Woodall
PA-19 Todd Russell Platts
VA-01 Rob Wittman
VA-10 Frank Wolf
KS-03 Kevin Yoder

IN-Sen Richard Lugar
IA-Sen Charles Grassley
ME- Sen Olympia Snowe
ME- Sen Susan Collins
MS-Sen Thad Cochran
WY- Sen John Barrasso
ND-Sen John Hoeven

And remember, again (I promise it will be the last time I mention it), even though some of these people will be leaving, they are still sitting members and will be part of the upcoming negotiations.

It's going to be hot and heavy in the next few weeks -- particularly in these offices.  I feel sorry for the staff.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving: The Recipe for a Perfect Meeting

Thanksgiving is an annual event where families come together, share stories, grow closer and stuff their face. Minus the stuffing their face part, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Thanksgiving and Lobby Days. Lobby Days are an annual event where advocates come together, share their stories on Capitol Hill, and build relationships with Members of Congress and their staff. Furthermore, the various components of Thanksgiving dinner can be used as a metaphor for the perfect congressional meeting (yes, these are the things I think about). Here’s a breakdown of how you can use everyone’s favorite holiday meal as a guideline for your upcoming Lobby Day:

1)      The turkey is the “ask”. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if we didn’t start with the turkey (or tofurky for you vegetarians out there). The turkey is the highlight of the dinner, the centerpiece that makes it Thanksgiving. If you take the turkey out of the equation, the rest of the dinner is almost pointless. This is why the turkey is just like the “ask” in your congressional meeting. You can have the most productive, friendly, informative meeting, but if you leave that office without asking your Member of Congress to do something specific then you have just wasted your time. Legislators and their staff have a lot on their plate, including taking time to meet with constituents like you, so unless you ask them to do something tactile they will likely shake your hand as you leave and then forget all about you.

2)      The stuffing is your story. The turkey might be the most important part of the meal, but the stuffing is always the fan favorite. At least in my household, the stuffing is the most enjoyed part of the meal and is usually what everyone leaves the table still talking about. That’s why the stuffing is like your personal story. Members of Congress and their staff want to meet with their constituents for one reason—they want to hear your personal story and how you are affected by what they do as a legislator. Leaving out your personal story would be like leaving out the stuffing in Thanksgiving dinner—the staffer will feel underwhelmed and unfulfilled.

3)      The green beans are your hard facts. Green beans certainly aren’t as popular as stuffing when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. That said, they are a necessary supplement that help to complete the meal. This is why green beans are like the hard facts of your congressional meeting. Not everyone loves eating their veggies, and not every staffer loves dealing with figures and percentages. Still, they need to be included in your meeting as a way of backing up whatever it is you are asking for. Using numbers effectively to show how a certain policy will affect you, your business or a large number of people in their district will help you to drive home the “ask.”

4)      The pumpkin pie is your follow up. Hours have passed, the football game is on, you’ve taken a little tryptophan nap, and you’re almost fully digested. By now you’ve almost forgotten that you ate this huge, delicious dinner—but wait! Suddenly it’s time for pumpkin pie, a reminder that Thanksgiving isn’t over yet. Pumpkin pie is like the follow up in a congressional meeting—you want to make sure the meeting isn’t forgotten without any action taken. It’s important to continue to build your relationship with a congressional office throughout the year, and you can start by following up a day or two after your meeting with a “thank you.” In the weeks ahead, make sure to send over any information you didn’t have in the meeting that you said you would get back to them on and remind them of your “ask.” This is a good foundation for maintaining contact throughout the year and developing that relationship further. Congressional staff always appreciate follow up, and I always appreciate pumpkin pie.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving/Lobby Day preparation meal. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Lame Duck Session Begins

Official Page

A week has passed since the election, and five House races still remain uncalled. You can view full election results and 113th Congress member list here. As the votes continue to be counted in these races, Congress returned to work today in what could be the busiest lame duck session in recent memory.

The most pressing issue confronting the 112th Congress continues to be the impeding fiscal cliff, a collection of automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will take effect in January and that could have a major negative impact on the economy. In a recent article, Politico outlined five scenarios in which this crisis can be resolved. In addition to the fiscal cliff, Congress still has to deal with payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits, disaster assistance, and the farm bill.

Although this is a busy lame duck session, it is essential that your issues remain relevant to legislators and that you begin to prepare your organization’s advocacy strategy for the 113th Congress. Advocacy Associates partners Jason Jordan and Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru, will be featured in the second free webinar in the series “Winning, No Matter Who Wins” on November 15 at 3:00pm. The webinar will provide post-election analysis that will help you understand the new dynamics of the 113th Congress and what you can do today to be better prepared to get results in the next Congress.

For more details, visit the official page or register here.  

***Follow Nick on Twitter

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Phrase "Open Government" is NOT an Oxymoron

Happy Birthday!  The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) is now five years old.  But has it made government any more open or honest?  Many people might say “uh, no.”  In fact, most people would say “no.” and the George Washington School of Political Management recently released a report (available at that looks at this question from the perspective of lobbyists.  Survey respondents do, in general, believe that HLOGA has greatly increased the amount of information available to the public and decreased the ability of lobbyists to impact legislative decisions (an outcome the American people seem to want). 

I’m sure you greet that statement with a fair amount of skepticism.  But do you really KNOW that hasn’t happened?  It’s in vogue these days to say that it’s impossible to learn what special interests are doing in D.C..  Before you say that (or even think it), go to the lobbying disclosure database at or the Sunlight Foundation at  I promise you’ll learn more than you want to about who is lobbying for or against what.

Projects to increase government openness -- like the Sunlight Foundation, (a site that tracks campaign contributions) and (a site that tracks information about Congressional staff) flourished after the passage of HLOGA.  Indeed, many of these organizations were instrumental to their passage.  So before you get all outraged about the lack of transparency, go see what’s out there.  And check out who is lobbying for the issues you like as well as against them.  You might be surprised.  It’s not all corporations and business interests.  Many lobbyists are representing day-to-day interests – and they need your help to make a difference.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Post-Election Lobby Day Preparation

As election results continue to flow in, there are already some things you can be doing to prepare for your lobby day next year (not that you don’t already have enough on your plate):
  • Develop a strategy for new members of Congress. While it is too early to determine how many new members will be joining the House, there will be at least five new members in the Senate (possibly six), as well as six (possibly seven) members shifting from a House seat in the 112th Congress to a Senate seat in the 113th. It’s important to make sure your advocates are aware of these changes and are as prepared as possible to meet with new members and their staff. Guide your advocates to the resources that will help them research their new members, such as to look up campaign contributions. Show them how to look up a member’s record if they were once a governor or member of the State Legislature. If you have any advocates who have good relationships with the staff of a House member turned Senator, ask them to reach out to their connections to congratulate them.
  • Prepare for updates on the logistical side. If you schedule meetings for your advocates in-house, keep in mind that office locations and phone numbers for members of Congress are going to get moved around. If you don’t subscribe to a service like KnowWho, you will need to manually verify phone numbers and office locations as you schedule meetings (which can be a huge pain and time-consumer).
  • Begin the registration process. With your advocates freshly amped-up over the elections, you have an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and increase participation for your next lobby day. If you aren't ready to begin actual registration, reach out to your membership with some helpful advocacy tools and include a plug about your upcoming lobby day to generate interest. 
***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Monday, November 05, 2012

How a Candidate Could Win the Popular Vote but Lose the Elections

I come neither to praise the Electoral College nor to bury it. I come to explain it. I get this question about the popular vote versus the Electoral College because, really, it makes no sense. In a democratic system, how could someone get more votes than another person but still lose? The simple reason is that the United States is not, contrary to popular belief, a true democracy. It is a democratic republic where citizen representation is based on a carefully crafted balance of federal and state rights.

The Electoral College is an important element of this balance, along with things like, well, the Senate.  It exists because the founding fathers believed that the best way to protect citizen rights is to both protect the rights and enhance the power of state governments. The way it works is that the states, not individuals, choose their candidates for President, and have as many votes as they have representatives in the House and Senate total. This approach was taken because state governments were seen as closer to the people and perhaps more understanding of the unique needs of that state. In addition, focusing the power to elect the president at the state level rather than on population gives states with smaller populations a slightly more powerful voice.  

How does that work?  Let’s look at Wyoming.  With about 568,000 people, Wyoming houses about .18% (yes, that’s point 18) of the 312 million people in the United States.  Yet with three electoral votes, Wyoming has about .5% of the overall votes in the Electoral College. Sure, .18% and .5% don’t seem like a big deal.  But the Electoral College gives this state over 2X the power it would have had based on population.  By contrast, California, with 12% of the population has just over 10% of the total votes available in the Electoral College. The differences may seem slight, but the intent is clear – to ensure that states with smaller populations have a proportionally louder voice than they would otherwise have.
How does that translate into the “popular vote versus the Electoral College” brou-ha-ha?  Let’s look at a specific example.  

  • The state of California has approximately 37,692,000 residents and 55 electoral votes.  
  • The state of Texas has 25,675,000 and 38 electoral votes.  
  • If Romney were to win 19,000,000 of the 25,675,000 votes in Texas (not going to happen, but let’s just imagine), he’s win the popular vote in that state and the 38 electoral votes
  • If Obama were to win 18,900,000 of the popular vote in California, he’d win the popular vote in California and its 55 electoral votes.  
But look at the differential: Romney has 100,000 more votes than Obama, but has still lost in the Electoral College. While this particular scenario of CA and TX is unlikely, it is illustrative of the overall potential in the 50 states.
Love it or leave, that’s how the Electoral College works – or doesn’t.  So stay tuned for all the fun tomorrow night!

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Fine, Don't Vote. But If You Don't Vote, Don't Whine

  •  My vote doesn't make a difference.
  •  It doesn't matter who wins. They're all the same.
  •  My candidate definitely will / won't win so why bother.
  •  I'm a conscientious objector to our democratic process.
  •  The lines are too long.

Yep, I've heard just about every excuse in the book for not voting.  And, frankly, I'm fine with all of them.  It's your choice. But if you choose not to participate in voting, you choose not to be effective in the rest of the process.  Think of voting as just one tool in the "effective influencer's" toolbox (which also includes citizen advocacy, lobbying, protests and, yes, even financial support for a candidate).

That said, those who vote wield far more power than that which comes from a simple hammer or nail.  President Lincoln had it right when he described ours as a government "... of the people, by the people and for the people."  "Of," means citizens make the choices through voting. "By" means those elected are chosen from among the citizenry.  And "for" means the choices elected leaders make should be in the best interests of "the people."  You'll notice Lincoln didn't say of, by and/or for the people.  Democracy is a package deal.

Certainly many, many, many people believe that elected officials aren't living up to the "for the people” part of the bargain.  I’m not ever going to convince a hardened political cynic that’s not true.  However, I continue to be mystified that the response to that for so many people is to abandon their responsibility on the “of the people” side of things.  What’s the alternative?  Government “at” the people?  We see a lot of that in the world and it’s not working out so well.    

That said, if you don’t want to vote, then don’t.  But later, please don't contact your elected officials or the President with any of the following messages:

  • I can't believe you didn't fund my favorite government program
  • I can't believe you continued funding that stupid program
  • I can't believe you're going to impose this tax
  • I can't believe you aren't going to extend this tax cut
  •     ... or whatever policy or funding issue you’re outraged about

Personally, I think we'll have a stronger and more responsive system of government if we all participate.  Not voting sends the signal that we really don't care how things turn out.  And maybe you don't.  But if that’s your perspective, than really don’t care -- even when things aren’t going your way.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to Trick Your Legislators into Doing What You Want - Even in an Election Year

The Guru as the Queen

If you think about it, isn’t Halloween really about using your influence to extract resources from people in authority? We can all learn a great deal from some of the 7-year olds in our communities, particularly in their approach to the time honored tradition of trick-or-treating. How?

Be Adorable: I’m not really the most “kid-friendly” person, but I must admit that when a small child of between 4 and 10, dressed as a fairy princess or spider man or even George Will (I live in DC, remember) comes to my door on Halloween, I can be suckered in — especially when they approach all breathless with anticipation at the very idea of coercing candy out of mean old Ms. Vance simply by lisping “trick or treat.” After dumping half the candy bowl in their sacks, I’ve heard these same sweet little cherubs run screaming down the stairs saying, with no discernable lisp whatsoever, “Yo, yo, yo — I got some awesome candy at that mean lady’s house.”

While I’m not suggesting that you dress in a fairy princess costume to meet with your legislators, I do suggest that you figure out how to be most appealing. Walking into a members’ office and demanding that since a) you pay their salary with your tax dollars and b) they work for you, they should c) do whatever you say without question or d) you’ll fire them is not so adorable. Try suckering them in with a positive approach – then hit them up for all the candy in the candy bowl.
Stand Out From the Crowd: How many Vampire outfits do you think you’ll see this year? Wouldn’t it be nice to see something different? I remember one year I went trick or treating as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. OK, not so unusual except that I took my Irish Wolfhound Megan as Toto. I cleaned up. I was eating free candy for months (or at least what I could extract from my mother). The point is that I stood out from the crowd.

How do you stand out from the crowd of people communicating with legislators? Simply by doing things other people rarely do, such as expressing an interest in the legislator’s issues, telling a personal, thoughtful story (instead of a mass-produced e-mail or postcard) and timing your communication so that it coincides with a decision point in the process. In so doing, you are tricking the system they have in place for dealing with the thousands of communications they get per week — and you will in turn gain more personal attention.

Don’t Be Greedy (Or, As a Corollary, Be Grateful): Everyone has had the experience of having a trick-or-treater at the door that wants more than his or her fair share — and actually has the gall to ask for it. While I’m a huge fan of “making the ask”, I’m not a huge fan of asking for too much. Frankly, it turns me off when, in reaction to my presentation of an appropriate amount of candy, a trick-or-treater says “geez, is that all? Mrs. Jones down the street gives everyone five pieces.” It doesn’t make me want to hand out more candy. It makes me want to reach into their snot-nosed little candy sack and take back what I already gave (see, I told you I was mean).
 Anyone “trick or treating” at their legislatures should practice making the ask and then saying “thank you” for what may be received. Effective advocates will wipe that disappointed frown off their face and maintain a positive relationship with elected officials — next year they may be able to be more generous.
Maintain a Reputation for Having the “Good Stuff”: The “good stuff”, in this case, is the really good candy. You know what I mean. Real Snickers’ instead of the Costco brand generic “Snuckers”. Popcorn balls dripping in honey. M&M’s, Starbursts, Hershey’s Chocolate bars — mmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Just as candy is the currency for Halloween, information is the currency for the policy process.
As an advocate, it is important to have quality information on the issues you care about. This includes whatever national facts, figures and trends you can get from a national group, state-level information and, most important, stories and statistics about how your policies impact people on a district-by-district basis. Your legislators are eager to know people in their districts who can answer their questions on specific policy issues. Become one of those people by doing your research — and developing a great reputation as a repository of good information.
See? Who knew there was so much to learn from Halloween? Now get our there and engage in a little trick or treating of your own with your legislators — you may be surprised at what treats you’ll get if you ask!

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy- October Surprise?

Life in Washington is quickly going back to normal after being brushed by Hurricane Sandy yesterday- Metro service is being restored, electricity is coming back, and politicos are debating the impact of the storm on the upcoming election.

While certainly there are more pressing matters on the Eastern Seaboard at the moment, it is hard to ignore the fact that the hurricane hit one week before a very close presidential election. Logistically, holding an election one week after Hurricane Sandy could prove difficult in cities and regions still lacking electricity; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reportedly looking into ways to power electronic voting machines in areas without power on Election Day. Hurricane Sandy also halted early voting and absentee voting in several states; Maryland and the District of Columbia had to cancel early voting yesterday and today, and officials are extending early voting hours to make up for the lost time. Though it will be difficult to tell what impact that has on voter turnout, it isn’t impossible to imagine that those who have had severe property damage or are without power may not turn out to vote in as high numbers as they would have otherwise.

Candidates hoping to make a last push in swing states have also been derailed by the storm; both the Romney and Obama campaigns have cancelled events, though Romney has been holding “relief rallies” in Ohio to collect supplies for storm victims. President Obama is off the campaign trail until at least Thursday, as he plans to tour disaster sites in New Jersey tomorrow, though campaign representatives such as Bill Clinton are being dispatched to swing states for events.

Like hanging chads in Florida, political scientists will debate the impact of the storm for years to come. Will President Obama gain traction in states like Virginia because of his response to the storm, or will Romney’s response help to endear him to voters?  If voter turnout is down in impacted states, was Sandy the cause or was voter apathy a more likely explanation? As Ralph Nader certainly knows, these theories are ones that are unlikely to ever be proved or disproved.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Will Congress Weather the Storm (Literally)?

I think it’s safe to say that Americans are generally discontented with the current level of partisanship within Congress – some even say it’s the most polarized Congress they have experienced in their lifetime. But even in this political environment, you would think that everyone would have to be on the same page when it comes to the safety of Americans in the wake of a natural disaster, right? Well, think again.

When Hurricane Irene hit in 2011, the U.S. government was on the brink of a shutdown. With a lack of available funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a newly Republican-led Congress promising to drastically cut federal spending, creating a supplemental appropriations bill for disaster relief became a very contentious issue. While a deal was finally reached, it took more heated debate than one usually likes to see when it comes down to the basic safety of the American people.

We do have to keep in mind that there are a few situational differences between Hurricane Irene and what we are experiencing now. First of all, it is yet to be seen how devastating Hurricane Sandy will be, and FEMA is in much better shape now that it was in 2011 as we weren't riddled with as many tornadoes, wild fires and other natural disasters this year. Also, since it’s an election year, some Members of Congress may react differently than they would have in 2011 if the Hurricane directly impacts their district (sad, but true). And while Congress is not dealing with a government shutdown this time around, they do have to determine what to do about the $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts called for in the sequestration provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that Congress can work together to take the appropriate action in relation to the amount of damage Sandy does. And this goes without saying, but please stay safe through the storm!

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Conference Apps are Where It's At

Conference smartphone apps are one of the newest trends in the business and advocacy arena. From floor plans to session descriptions to programs and maps, conference apps are a great way to provide a one-stop shop for any and all details your attendees may need to know. Here at Advocacy Associates, we provide scheduling assistance to organizations and associations that are hosting an Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, an event which is often paired with an annual conference. After being introduced to so many of these great apps at many of these conferences, it occurred to us that we were still only offering physical pieces of paper when it came to congressional schedules (SO early 2000’s), and that it was time to, well, get with the times!

Upon this awakening, we developed a multi-platform smartphone app specifically for our Stress Free Lobby Days program. Participants who are taking part in congressional meetings can download our app to view their schedules, map to their meetings on the hill, check for updates to their schedules, and take notes during their meetings. Not only that, but they can also use the app to find places to eat and things to do in the area for those longer breaks between meetings. Not only does our app provide certain functionalities that you simply can’t get from a piece of paper, but it also serves as a great backup for those who still prefer to use their printed schedule.

If you don’t already provide an app for your annual conference, you may want to consider it for next year. Your attendees will thank you for it, and maybe even come back next year!

If you want to learn more about our Stress Free Lobby Days program and our fabulous Stress Free Lobby Days app, contact me at

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Preparing for your Hill Meetings: Newbie Edition

Among the groups I work with who hold Advocacy Day events on Capitol Hill, I am always happy to see the smiling faces of those advocates who have participated in a hill day before and have eagerly come back for more! More often than not I also notice that a few newcomers have been added to the mix, which is equally as exciting. For those folks who are first timers, there are a few simple things you need to know that will make you seem like the savviest of hill-goers:

Dress to Impress. This may seem overly obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of advocates who show up for their hill meetings in khaki shorts and a Hawaiian t-shirt. To play it safe, think of your congressional meetings as business meetings (and in some ways that’s what it is, right?). A full suit and tie (or pant suit for the ladies) may not be necessary – especially during the dog days of summer – but a dress shirt and formal bottoms (no jeans) will go a long way. Think business casual, not Disney vacation.

Be prepared for security lines. If you’ve never been to the congressional office buildings before, you may not know that there is a security check point at every entrance. The lines to get through security can range anywhere from being the only person in line to standing in a 10-15 minute line if you’re getting there around the time that staffers are coming in for the day. Make sure to give yourself ample time to get through a potential line. If you bring a suitcase too large, it won't fit through their scanners and it becomes a big to-do, so avoid that if you can. Also keep in mind that if you have any meetings taking place in the Capitol Visitors Center, you cannot bring food or drink into that building.

There are underground tunnels. The hill is a deceptively large place. On a map it looks like all the buildings are very close, but it can take a surprising amount of time to walk from the Cannon House Building to the Rayburn House Building. And when you’re going from the House side to the Senate side or vice-versa, it’s about a 15-20 minute walk. One of the perks to keeping your House meetings together is that there are underground tunnels you can walk through to get from one House building to the next (and the same goes for the Senate side). On a sweltering summer day in DC, this is not only a great way to shave some time off of your commute but it also helps you stay put-together.

With these tips behind your belt (you know, the one on your dress pants and NOT on your khaki shorts), you’ll be ready to conquer the Hill with ease.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Own Post-Debate Fact Checking

I am completely and totally unqualified to comment in any way on the "facts," figures and statements about "who said what when" that were raised in last night's presidential debate.  However, with my Master's degree in Legislative Affairs (which hasn't really been very impressive until just this moment), I can say that there's one procedural fact that I saw as a little off.  In short, Mr. Romney doesn't seem to understand the basic logistics of how bills get introduced at the federal level.

Several times during the debate, he stated that President Obama had not "filed" legislation on Immigration Reform.  The term filed implies (at least in my mind) that the President can introduce legislation.  Or, at least, that there's a formal, constitutionally (or rules-oriented) process for the Executive to put stuff in front of Congress.

However, the truth is that although the executive can certainly suggest changes to law, he (or she someday) doesn't "file" anything with anyone.  Here's what the parliamentarian has to say about the executive's role in bill introduction:

In modern times, the ''executive communication'' has become a prolific source of legislative proposals. The communication is usually in the form of a message or letter from a member of the President's Cabinet, the head of an independent agency, or the President himself, transmitting a draft of a proposed bill to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.
If you want to read all the intricacies of the federal legislative process, you can do so here, but I'm not going to suggest doing it unless you are getting course credit for it.  "Filing" is really a state-level procedure.

I know I'm missing the overall point, which is that President Obama said he would do something on Immigration Reform, but didn't.  And I haven't said anything about how the executive really can't unilaterally achieve much (i.e., that he needs Congress to take action).  And maybe Romney used the term "filed" to refer to that "executive communication." 

This is clearly a question of semantics, but for me it's a little like those movies filmed in D.C. where a character gets on the metro in D.C., rides to the next stop and gets out in the farthest reaches of Virginia or Maryland.  It's a detail that demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the city.  In this case, Romney's use of "filed" may not be a big deal, but it irks this Master in Legislative Affairs.

Watch last night's full debate below.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why the Lame Duck Session Will be Kind-Of Lame - And Why You Should Still Pay Attention

Avoiding the fiscal cliff.  Medicare reimbursement for physicians.  Our nation's entire agriculture policy. Afghanistan. This is the short list of the issues Congress needs to address in one way or another between November 13th and December 31st.  Yes, they have to solve the entire nation of Afghanistan, or at least the nearly 17% cut in military spending that will happen on January 1st if Congress doesn't act.  In fact, here's the longer version of the lame duck agenda:
  • Sequestration
  • Welfare reform
  • Medicare reimbursement
  • Defense spending
  • Iran
  • Tax cuts
  • Farm Bill
  • Post Office
  • Russia
  • Violence Against Women

Being able to address all this seems, at a minimum, unlikely, given that Congress has not been so successful at getting things done this session.  Only about 2% of the 10,000 bills introduced so far have become law.  Now, let me be clear that this back of the envelope analysis does not include bills that were incorporated into other bills or otherwise moved through the process.  OK, so let's imagine that 5 times as many bills really passed.  That's about 10%.  Still, ummm, less than stellar.

That said, I have to say that I've never been a fan of measuring Congressional success by the percentage of bills passed, even though I just did it.  Anyone who's read my musings for a while knows that I've always held hard and fast to the idea that Congress is designed to be completely and totally inefficient.  In fact, in the eyes of the founding fathers, 10% or even 2% might be too much. 

Given that fact, I'm expecting a whole bunch of punting to be happening in the next few months, and I don't mean football (although it will probably happen there as well).  Advocates must still be on the alert and engaged -- after all, we can't be sure which issues will gain traction.  We also can't know which issues will wind up in traction.  Just don't expect everything, or even most things, to be finally settled by December 31st.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

At Bat for Advocacy

The baseball postseason is in full swing, and for the first time in 79 years a Washington, D.C. team is in contention (and yes, I am an avid Nats fan). But as we all know, baseball isn’t the only important thing going on in our nation’s capital (elections anyone?). It occurred to me that there are a few takeaways from the game of baseball that can be applied to your advocacy efforts:

1)     Even the best ball players only succeed one-third of the time. Baseball and advocacy both entail a great deal of failure and success, so don’t get discouraged when you don’t see results every single time you ask a member of Congress for something. Just as the baseball season is long, so are congressional terms – you’ll always have another chance to move your agenda forward. Sometimes you are going to swing and miss, but if you stay persistent you will eventually hit a grand slam and get that co-sponsor, get a statement in the Congressional Record, or get that bill passed.

2)     There are many forces at play with every move you make. In every at bat, you have to consider how many outs there are, whether anyone is on base, what the pitch count is, where the outfield is positioned, and numerous other factors. On top of that, you have to try to anticipate what the pitcher will throw you next. Similarly, as an advocate you have to be aware of a number of components as you advance your agenda. When does the bill go to committee? When does the bill go to the floor? Who can be a champion for your cause? Who is on the fence and perceivably swayable, and do you have any advocates with a relationship or constituency connection to that member? If you can anticipate what is coming and develop a strategy around those factors, you will be in much better shape.

3)     A baseball team’s roster is constantly changing, and so is congress. While the makeup of a baseball team changes due to trades, free agency, injuries and dismissals, Congressional seats change due to elections and resignations. It’s important to follow the elections in key districts and do your research when new members of Congress get elected (one good place to start would be, where you can view campaign contributions). Developing relationships with new legislators should be a major focus for any grassroots advocacy effort. Take the time to meet with these members and their staff, invite them to an on-site visit and attend their town hall meetings in the district. Forming relationships early will pay off down the line.

And if you don’t accomplish everything on your advocacy to-do list, just remember – like baseball – there’s always next year!

Monday, October 08, 2012

When Relationship-Building, Reliability is Key

Don’t you hate it when someone tells you a fun or interesting fact and then when you use it in another conversation, and take credit for it (don’t act like you don’t, everyone does it), you embarrassingly discover that the information was inaccurate? Well this may not come as a surprise, but congressional staff hate it too. Like really hate it.

According to The Congressional Communications Report released this summer by George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, Columbia Books, and, one of the largest determining factors in getting congressional staff to meet (and re-meet) with you is whether you can provide “credible, reliable information.” Congressional staffers can have anywhere between 1 and 10 issue areas on their plate, and due to the fluidity of the legislative calendar they usually need to acquire credible information on a certain issue as quickly as possible. When that moment arises where a vote comes up on one of your issues and that staffer is looking for the latest information, they are going to remember that when they met with you months ago that you provided them with reliable information. As a result, when they choose who they are going to consult for information you will be at the top of their list. On the other hand, if you give them faulty information and they use it, they will look bad in front of their boss and likely never consult you again. So while you’re focusing on which pieces of super-useful information you’re going to provide them with, make sure you take some time to make sure that information is also super-accurate. It’s worth the extra time to double and triple-check your facts – It can be the difference between making or breaking a relationship with a staffer. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Congress Sets Spending Levels for First Six Months of FY13- Learn How to Prepare Your Advocates for FY13 and Beyond

Immediately prior to adjourning until after the election, Congress approved a six-month spending bill that will keep the government running when the current fiscal year ends on Sunday. Join Advocacy Associates on Thursday for the first of two free webinars on how to prepare your advocates for the election season, the new fiscal year, and beyond. Registration is now open.

The continuing resolution sets spending levels until March 27, 2013 at the $1.047 trillion level agreed upon in the Budget Control Act, the deal reached last summer to raise the debt ceiling. The spending cap for FY13 is slightly higher than FY12 levels, which will boost programs by .621% across the board and will allow $1.992 billion in additional funding to go to various projects and disaster relief.

The agreement marks a compromise between the House and the Senate, which based its individual spending bills on wildly differing topline levels. Conservative members of the House had been pushing the budget resolution introduced by Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would have lowered overall spending for FY13 by $19 billion. The Senate, on the other hand, supported the topline numbers agreed upon in the BCA.  In what seemed like a contradictory vote, the bill passed handily in the House, but passed by a narrower margin in the Senate. The President is expected to sign it into law this week.

After the election, fiscal issues such as sequestration, tax reform, and deficit control will dominate the lame duck session of Congress. Join Advocacy Associates for two free webinars to help you prepare your advocates and policy issues for the election season and beyond, regardless of the outcome of the election. Register here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Congratulations to the City of Greensboro- Winners of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge Grant

Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced the winners of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge, a grant competition designed to generate innovative ideas to develop long-term economic and job growth plans. Advocacy Associates congratulates the City of Greensboro for the recognition of their hard work to foster economic development in the area and the opportunity to expand their projects.

The City of Greensboro was selected to allow the city to access additional resources to develop a comprehensive plan that will incorporate several on-going economic development projects. The comprehensive plan will better leverage five major industry clusters in and around the region, and will influence the next 50 years of growth in the city.

The Strong Cities, Strong Communities Program, launched in July of 2011, is an interagency program to foster economic development in neighborhoods, towns, cities and regions by giving communities extra capacity to develop and execute economic strategies.

The Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge is being administered by the Economic Development Administration. The award is divided into two phases.  First, grantees will seek economic development proposals from teams comprised of a range of transportation, planning, economic, business, and engineering experts, which will be voted on by a city-appointed panel. Then, the winning teams will develop and submit comprehensive, strategic economic development plans, and the panel will select a winning plan. The cities will receive technical assistance from the Economic Development Administration throughout the entire process. Hartford, CT and Las Vegas also received grants. More information about the awards and the program is available here.

Advocacy Associates provides the City of Greensboro with legislative monitoring, strategic advice, and advocacy network assistance services.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Winning, No Matter Who Wins

It's frustrating to see constant poll results identifying our nation's "most important problem" when the word bank voters are given to choose from is really small. What about improved transportation choices? Library funding? Stroke prevention? Workforce development? What about your issue?

In addition to worrying about whether the right issues are being discussed, there is the problem of identifying and electing the best advocates for your cause to Congress or City Council. At this point in the election season we are inundated daily with messages proclaiming doom if "the other guy" wins. It can be tempting to spend time calculating the exact results necessary on Election Day to ensure your organization's cause has a chance.

Advocacy Associates believes that with the right preparation, you can have your issue and advocates winning, no matter who wins. With a combined total of over 50 years of experience in grassroots communications and government relations, Advocacy Associates wants to help government affairs and grassroots professionals prepare their advocates and issues for election season and beyond.

This fall, we are providing two free webinars to help your organization get started mobilizing advocates, increasing issue visibility, preparing for post-election turnover, understanding what's at play during the Lame Duck, and defining your legislative strategy while everyone else is focused on the political.

Thursday, September 27, 3:00pm ET
Pre-Election Preparations
Register Here

Thursday, November 15, 3:00pm ET
Post-Election Strategy
Register Here

We look forward to talking advocacy with you!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The New Fashion Statement: Boot Straps

New York Fashion Week wrapped up recently and I’m surprised there weren’t more boot-straps on the catwalks.  I mean, all the politicians are wearing them these days.  In fact, it seems impossible to run successfully for office without having pulled oneself out of the rubbish heap by one's own boot-straps.  Does anyone else find the “I suffered more afflictions than you” rhetoric a little overwhelming?

I get that anyone running for office wants to make the “I've lived the American rags-to-riches dream” case.  But I don’t think someone with a Harvard Law degree (Obama) or someone who lives on GM stock (Romney) qualifies as “underprivileged,” no matter the amount of rust on their car (again Obama) or the composition of their dining table (an ironing board, per Romney).   

I also wonder how a “rags to riches” story helps make the “I feel your pain” argument.  Most people in America don’t have a “rags to riches” story. The majority of us have a “rags-from-K-Mart” to “somewhat-nicer-rags-from-Macy’s” story: sometimes a slight rise, sometimes a slight fall, but not usually too dramatic a swing.

We’ve let the “boot-strap appeal “permeate our culture, and I’m as much a problem as anyone else.  For example, I’m currently obsessed with the TV show “The Voice.” Very few of the contestants come to the show with what most of us would call a traditional upbringing.  And you know you’re going to hear their sad story when the depressing background music starts playing in the middle of their introduction. In our household, we’ve started a game of guessing “what’s the affliction” every time someone comes on the screen.  

I recognize that probably sounds insensitive.  The truth is that people do overcome amazing hurdles, even in the political world.  And some of those hurdles are higher than others. I'm proud to live in a culture that embraces entrepreneurship and drive, making it easier to get over those hurdles and allowing more people to earn their way to a better life and increased net worth.

At the same time, the current stress on these “humble beginnings” arguments insult those with truly humble beginnings -- or even middles.  With so many people living below the poverty line and so many people struggling to find jobs, it's hard for me to believe that a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney can truly identify with them.  I know I can't, so I wouldn't try to pretend to do so. All I can try to do is try to help.

As the election drones on, and as long as there continues to be a rhetorical advantage to these arguments, they’re going to keep coming.  Believe me, I feel your pain on that.